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Sauter v. Miller

Supreme Court of North Dakota

February 22, 2018

Julie Anne Sauter, as Trustee of the Julie Anne Sauter Living Trust Dated February 12, 2014, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
James Miller and Carol Miller, Defendants and Appellants

         Appeal from the District Court of Bowman County, Southwest Judicial District, the Honorable Dann E. Greenwood, Judge. AFFIRMED.

          Allison R. Mann (argued) and Nathan M. Bouray (appeared), Dickinson, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

          Dennis W. Lindquist, Dickinson, ND, for defendants and appellants.

          OPINION

          VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

         [¶ 1] James and Carol Miller appealed from a judgment quieting title to certain real property in favor of Julie Sauter. The Millers argue the district court erred in finding Sauter acquired ownership of the disputed property by adverse possession, finding the boundary of the property was established by acquiescence, finding the Millers breached their contract and trespassed on Julie Sauter's property, and awarding Julie Sauter attorney's fees.

         [¶ 2] We affirm the judgment on acquiescence, breach of contract, trespass, and attorney's fees. Because we affirm the judgment on the issue of acquiescence, we do not reach the issue of adverse possession.

         I

         [¶ 3] The Millers and Julie Sauter own property with a common border in Bowman County in the southwest quarter of section 13, township 129 north, range 103 west of the 5th P.M. The parties dispute the ownership of a 55-60 foot strip of land equaling approximately two acres located on the Sauter side of the fence separating the properties.

         [¶ 4] The Sauter property has been owned by Julie Sauter's family since her father, Oscar Greni, purchased it in 1942. Julie Sauter personally obtained ownership of the Sauter property in 1990. Sauter transferred the property to the Julie Sauter Trust in 2014. Since taking ownership in 1990, Julie Sauter has leased the Sauter property to different parties for grazing purposes. A fence ("Original fence"), running east and west along the Sauter property and the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter of section 13, was constructed sometime before the 1960s and remained in place until it was removed by the Millers in 2014.

         [¶ 5] Prior to taking ownership in 2013, the Miller property was owned by Kurt and Katina Heinrich. In 2012, Julie Sauter and the Heinrichs entered into a grazing lease for a two-year period expiring in 2014. However, before the lease expired, the Heinrichs sold their property to the Millers and no longer had use for the Sauter property. The Millers did not have the property surveyed prior to the purchase. Julie Sauter allowed the Heinrichs to sublease the land to the Millers for the 2013 grazing year. For the 2014 grazing season, Julie Sauter and the Millers entered into a new lease.

         [¶ 6] In 2013, the Millers wanted to drill a water well on their property which required the land to be surveyed. The survey revealed the Original fence did not follow the actual boundary line of the two properties. The Millers tore down the Original fence, constructed a new fence on the surveyed boundary line, and drilled a water well on the disputed property.

         [¶ 7] Julie Sauter brought an action against the Millers, and the district court quieted title to the property in favor of Julie Sauter and dismissed the Millers' counterclaims. The district court found Sauter is the legal owner of the disputed property under the theories of adverse possession and acquiescence. The district court also ordered damages for breach of contract, trespass, and attorney's fees in favor of Sauter.

         II

         [¶ 8] In an appeal from a bench trial, the district court's findings of fact are reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard of review and its conclusions of law are fully reviewable. Moody v. Sundley, 2015 ND 204, ¶ 9, 868 N.W.2d 491. "A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if it is induced by an erroneous view of the law, if there is no evidence to support it, or if, after reviewing all of the evidence, this Court is convinced a mistake has been made." Id. In a bench trial, the district court ...


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